Do you have the right app-titude?

Modern workers need to have something new: I like to call it ‘the right app-titude’. New technologies have changed many aspects of how they do their jobs, but the creation of apps (applications) and the widening use of smartphones means that customers and clients expect more than just a smile and the delivery of good service. Many businesses now try to connect with their customers by having apps, which allow browsing of merchandise, provide a range of useful information, provide the ability to shop, perhaps without the need for immediate access to the usual forms of payments.

starbucks-logoStarbucks (and I hope they don’t mind my using their logo) offer a customer card, but it also has an app which is an electronic version of the card and more, and offers many things to the casual or regular drinker and snacker. By loading the card with funds, you can buy your drinks, etc. by using the card or scanning your app in front of a bar code reader. You can reload the card, as needed, directly or via the app. Buying with the card/app makes you eligible for free refills of hot or cold drinks. You get offers of free music downloads and other offers. Easy enough? Tempting enough? Yes. Except that, I did not know all of this when I downloaded the app. My older daughter brought some of this to my attention, after I complained about not being able to find my actual Starbucks card and being miffed about either having to buy another card or just pay without getting a card and feeling that I was losing out on benefits.

So, when I went for a cool drink in Starbucks yesterday, I made the point to the barista that he and his colleagues need to do the modern version of up-selling (you know, the way that something extra is offered whenever you make your order–“A donut with that coffee?”). He got the point quickly and made sure I knew what the do. Ask customers if they have the card, and the app, and if they want to use one or either, etc. It may seem onerous or out of the norm, but the customers usually want things to be simpler and faster and apps offer that. Guess what? Sales may rise, too.

Last night, I was happy to try to download the free music that had been offered on my card. I see that I may soon be eligible for a free brew. Loyal or not, customers get a buzz out of getting something extra for the money they spend, not just the buzz from sipping on that caffeine loaded liquid.

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It’s not much but…

“So, what’s up? No posts for over a week!” I would not call that a needy plea, but that’s what a reader gave me in person, this morning.

Excuses? None needed. Ideas flow as they do and sometimes they don’t form enough to make a paragraph. But, if that’s the case, should I just push out the ideas as they are: few words, broken sentences, unfinished paragraphs? Some writers make a living doing just that.

Satire, yourself. I had too much fun over the weekend, lunching with some Jamaican friends. Every few minutes we’d get back to joking about ourselves, especially how we speak. Why, then, I asked, don’t we do much satire, instead of just jokes? One explanation given was that we’re very sensitive to being ridiculed, but so are most people. Another is that we take such ridicule very personally, which makes it especially hurtful, so is better avoided. It’s certainly not out of deference to those in leadership or so-called ‘high positions’. If anything, Jamaicans are as good at being crabs in a barrel as anyone. But, beyond cartoons, why is it that satire is not a well-developed art in Jamaican culture? Or is so subtle that I miss it?

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Being fifty, feeling nifty?

Saturday, midmorning, and my inner juices are now flowing at a normal rate. I had a lie in, till 9 a.m. Whoo-hoo! I stretched. I splashed cold water on my face. I did a little thinking about a few things, while I nibbled on a simple sandwich for my breakfast. I sat in my pajamas. Oooh, the decadence!

My third-grader had been invited to a sleep over last night, and I dropped her off around 7 p.m., after she’d finished her swimming practice. She and her friend were all bubbles most of the week, as they excited each other about the night of fun they would add. As we drove, my daughter recounted how many sleepovers she’d had–not many, but that helped to make them special. I wasn’t especially concerned, but I wanted to be sure that when I left that I had not done so with no adult in the house. That didn’t seem to me to be  something very special, but part of what being a ‘responsible parent’ was all about. I saw my daughter’s friend roll her eyes as I walked in, saying I wanted to check they were not going to be home alone. I joked with the babysitter as she told me the girls were going to head to Mickey D’s. Shock. Horror. I wanted to take my daughter home immediately :-). I teased her that I should have brought some alfalfa sandwiches to make sure that her delicate diet was not going to topple over. She helped push me out the door and ran off to play.

Yesterday, before I had done that schlepping, while on my way from the golf course, I saw (what looked like) a middle-aged woman, doing some yoga stretches in her front yard. That’s what the arrival of a really warm day does to you, I thought. Younger neighbours, I saw, were jogging on the path that ran through her neighbourhood. Go, girl! We’ve learned that less is more. Being older has some benefits. Wisdom, is one of them.

I’d spent three hours practising my golf swing then playing nine holes with a Spanish friend, also in his fifties and retired–his wife had suggested he needed to improve his English, so he’s now enrolled in classes till around 11 a.m. each morning. We were, thus, reduced to playing golf at a near sprint as we squeezed our play into the two hours we had before having to make our respective school pick-up runs. I could feel the ache in my legs from walking–the course is hilly–and was sweaty–the temperature had risen to around 60 F. My friend apologized that he had to make the putt and run. I nodded in understanding, as I took loaded my clubs into my car. I was tired. I had in my head visions of a slow warm-down in the exercise room and a sauna: not as random as you may think, because these were available in a house that was being considered as a new home.

My wife had forwarded to me during the week details of a weekly golf tournament for men over 50: the start times were all between 8:30 and 9 a.m. No doubt, enough participants are available to make these jaunts work. I’d seen them, cruising in their carts, hitting balls from the forward tees, laughing and drinking beer and swapping money at each hole. What a life! 

I just hung up the phone after speaking to the dad where my daughter’s had her night out–he’s a lawyer, new to the art of being a stay-at-home. I explained to him, while we were making arrangements for pick-up, that today is my day for having nothing much on my agenda: “Welcome to the world of being retired,” I told him. He replied that he was still trying to figure that out. I saw a new career opening ahead.

I am not in the having-it-all mould anymore–honestly, I can’t recall when I last tried it. In the same way that you cannot focus well on hitting your driver while you are thinking about how to sink the putt, I’m happy focusing on how to chew the small mouthful of food on my fork, rather than the whole plate.

I joked yesterday with my daughter about how life would be if we were born like adults and became like children as we aged, needing to be taken care of by those stronger and more able than we are. Not as weird as I first thought. Life is not meant to speed up as you age. I do not believe that 50 is the new 30, let alone the new 40. It’s the fifties. Like it or lump it! I’m fifty and I know it!

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My ex, rugs, wok and rolls

It’s all about the Benjamins, baby. (With due deference to Dick Vitale, as March Madness nears its maddening end.)

“C’mon, man! You’ve got to make money out of this thing.”…”You’re crazy! People will pay you good bucks for what you’re doing.”…”Let me tell you how I’ve been coining it in, doing what I love to do–writing.”…

blogging-moneyI’m not going to call these siren voices. But, I’ve heard most of it all before.

I’ve been blogging for a few years and it’s apparent that, for some, this activity is an income-generating vehicle. Not meaning to be offensive, but I would suspect you if you paid me to read what I write. Read it. Share it. Pay me for it? Nah!

Being an economist, I have some idea about how markets are supposed to work. Clearly, many processes can lead to a money-making business. Vice sells! If I inserted key words, like ‘sex’, or ‘drugs’, into my writing my blog’s popularity would rise almost miraculously above the cowering masses and send me soaring off into the blogerati, as hits on my blog rose due to the search for salaciousness, or information on the murky sides of life. Celebrity scandalizing? Rolling with the rockers? Peep and tell? Vicarious thriller. Add some murky YouTube videos with images of people we do not know but whose names are household names. Film my cat wearing my wife’s clothes? No end to the weirdness that could sell and push me past some financial tipping point.

What then would happen to my life? My search would never stop to keep out-awesoming myself. Wholesomeness? Bleh! Shock. Shockier. Shockiest. Where would it end? I’d have no time for fun. What would I do with all the fame and the rising piles of my fortune?

Investments, baby.

I read this morning about the latest intrigue over Bitcoin. The rage has spurred interest, as in a recent primer in the Washington Post. I agree with those who see this as close to the Cadillac of all fiat money. Call me a cynic, but if it sounds too good to be true, then… Scam or scheme to get through many of the wrinkles of making transactions? Limited supply leading to rising values. Artificially lifting prices. Bubble, in the making? It’s all about trust. Well, what isn’t? Putting ‘real’ (recognizable and widely accepted) money into the hands of someone who’s going to give me some virtual money (not well-recognized and not widely accepted). What about that does not make sense?

I wonder how many of the Federal employees, about to face furlough notices due the sequestration, will plunge into the Bitcoin pool?

Was there ever a guano bubble? Did I miss the chance to cash in on that s!#@?

My kid has her monopoly game under her bed. I’d better go and collect up all those notes and see if I can get groceries from the supermarket.

We want the money. We want it the easy way.

It’s going to end badly. Mo’ money, mo’ problems:

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You are your food

The idea of your being what you eat is neither new nor unique when it comes to nutrition. I’m not going to get into a froth about organic farming. Nor am I going to get all romantic about turning urban landscapes into farmland, and striving for self-sufficiency, and more awareness of the origins of our food. I’m more interested in how our relationship with food may define cultural and historical aspects of our lives. At some stage, it may be interesting to try to see where social connections can be made based on foods we know, like, have tasted, or grown–that’s for another time, perhaps. I could make this little essay a string of words that listed the many things that I like to eat, and it would be a wide geographical and historical journey–that too, may be something to explore some other time. But, I’m intrigued by something a little more limited, and look at an affinity to Jamaican food, and how it can help to define many a person.

I was just put on that train of thought by my third grade daughter talking about our recent trip to Jamaica. Someone asked her at swimming practice yesterday if she had enjoyed her trip. Much to my surprise, she showed her enjoyment by going straight into a description of what she’d eaten. No surprise, there. Shockingly, she talked about how she’d loved eating a cooked green vegetable–not reloving some dessert which she had eaten. (Many people with young children are reaching for the smelling salts at this point.) She talked about callaloo, which she’d eaten several times for breakfast during the previous week, usually with cooked salt fish. What was funny was how a Bahamian cousin of hers–also a very good swimmer–had drooled about callaloo after he discovered it for the first time three years ago. He could not get enough of it. Is there something in those greens about which parents need to know? Somehow, I could not envisage this excitement brimming over in our Maryland suburban setting simply because it’s not readily available. This vegetable abounds in Jamaica and is the core of many a meal. Neither child knew that beforehand, but they both fitted it into their Jamaican experiences. Fried dumplings, jerk chicken, patties would all work the same way.

Food was very much a constant during last week’s visit to Kingston. With not a breath of hesitation, we dived into plates of Jamaican food, like snails fall into a mug of beer. Some was new to our family group, some was familiar staple. Mangoes, papaya, water melon, oranges, and ripe bananas, all look and smell wonderful first thing in the morning, and are familiar to many. They define for me a routine start to the day, even though they have not been part of my regular day for decades. I remember the excitement I felt when I had the chance to recall that while living in west Africa, where many of the same fruits abound.

But we got to see and sample some of the less well-known fruit, too. What about naseberry (sapodilla)? What about pomegranates? A list of things remembered came flooding back: star apple, custard apple (sweet sop), guineps. For me, they brought memories of childhood times and places. For my daughters, they brought back memories of previous trips. For all of us, things missed but now within our grasp. However we felt, we could exercise our like-dislike options, based on ripeness, sweetness, texture, juiciness or messiness.

ackeeCooked food can be manipulated by the cook to be more or less to a person’s taste. The tempting sights and smell of a food being prepared still leaves the taste test to be overcome. Every cuisine has its weirdness. Jamaica has one that never seems to fail. If you like scrambled eggs, how do you convince yourself that the cooked item that is in your plate and looks like scrambled eggs is indeed a fruit that is eaten as a savoury? Meet ackee, which bears no resemblance to eggs except in colour? A fruit with the reputation of only being edible in special circumstances, or would be poisonous. Doesn’t sound worth the effort? Pass me your share!

If you’ve never sampled a certain food, it can be hard to understand its taste, smell, texture, and how your body reacts to it. Someone familiar with the food may try to describe it, but sometimes you cannot come near to capturing what it’s all about, except by trying it yourself. Then, if you like it, you become like many a convert, the true apostle. My older daughter knows she cannot tolerate certain foods–red bell peppers, for instance. How could I understand her love of manish water? Once she discovered that it was truly made from a ram goat’s head, plus many of the innards, she thrilled at wickedly letting her friends in on this fact…after they had sampled it. I know that for her, drinking it puts her in many places and situations that are nothing else but Jamaican. No possible confusions with her other roots.

What happens to the rest of the goat? Curried goat. Three days running may seem excessive. Judging by the empty plates each time it appeared or was requested, I figure that three days is not the limit.

My favourite ice cream flavour is grape nut. Never had it? Doesn’t surprise me, if you’ve never been to Jamaica.grape nut But, I know it’s very popular in some parts of north America, though I’ve never seen it listed in any Haagen-Dazs, Baskin-Robbins, or Ben and Jerry’s. It’s everywhere in Jamaica, though. Along with other favourites such as sour sop, rum and raisin,

jamcaicanfruit_edited1How many types of mango do you know? How many do you have in your yard? What do you look forward to picking from your trees? What do you plan to do with your harvest? Share? Consume yourself? Try new recipes? Ever eaten mango crumble? Let me tell you how good that is.

Where you live can be more of a home because of what is growing around you. I loved my first owned house in London very much for what I did to transform its narrow garden into a space that produced fruit and vegetables for us to eat.

I always found it odd that homes in the US were considered in ‘good locations’, when they had just lawns, flowers and shrubs roundabout them.

When you live somewhere, like Jamaica, that allows almost anything to grow, your location would be better if it had fruit trees and vegetables, as well as flowers and shrubs.  New homes get their character quickly as owners plant trees: lime, mango, or whatever–an eye to the future produce.

My father did the same, but on a larger scale, when he went back to Jamaica and bought a new house. Years later, what was once almost bare is full to overflowing.

When I went to visit my father over the weekend ‘in the country’; my mission was also to check on what was growing in his yard. He lives in a mountainous area, with a renowned cool climate. However, both my daughters have had trees planted there for them–mango for one, two coconuts for another. None of these trees grows well in that area, but they are trying their best. But, I also had to check on corn, sugar cane, peas, yam, onions, sweet potatoes, and cho-cho–always growing wild on the vines. At last, the lychee tree had fruit in abundance: I sampled one, and though it was sour, I could foresee them ripened in weeks to come. I couldn’t leave without some produce being given to me to take back to Kingston.

I recalled our time in Barbados, where we had a house with guava trees in the yard. We shared eating the fruit with green monkeys; made jam with them; gave away bagfuls for others to eat or make ‘cheese’; made guava duff–Barbados was forever changed :-). Some doctor friends always gave me bags of mangoes from their yard, when they were in season; I gave them guavas. I shared their mangoes with my neighbours and friends.

I remember visiting Jamaica a few years ago and spending an afternoon climbing trees and hooking fruit with sticks so that a friend’s friend would not lose her ripening fruit. We did not have time for food, wine and idle chit-chat while looking over the hills and waiting for the setting sun: there was ‘work’ to be done. I can’t remember how many boxes we filled, but we were pretty sore and hungry when we were done. The usual socializing came afterwards.

Jamaica, a country that is plagued with praedial larceny also finds itself with people willing to ‘capture’ unoccupied land to till and plant rather than leave to attract rubbish and weeds. Adjacent to my father’s house is a vacant lot, and someone we know has cleared it and populated it with plants. It yielded enough produce to depend less on buying. It offered cash crops to supplement income. It provided distraction and activity for children. The parcel has now being ‘shared’ and now two ‘farmers’ who do not own it are working it.

It’s funny to see this basic idea and its collaborative elements now coming into play by introducing similar ‘urban farming‘ in some areas in the US. Trying to use a connection to food to redefine people and spaces. I’m not sure they will go the whole hog, so to speak, and also adopt another Jamaican ‘land grab’ tradition of putting animals to graze on vacant land.

Our travels over Easter left us tired and in need of cheer once we had come back home. My family ate home cooking and crashed. The next day, coming home late, after being back to school and work, they needed more cheer. The solution was obvious to my little daughter. She went to the box of Jamaican patties, which her mother had bought at the airport, and the baking tray was soon full of patties. No one had any better ideas. Why was I not surprised?

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The physics of new media

My life is in a state of turmoil. I am a ball of confusion. In recent years, I’ve been very happy to embrace many facets of what we term ‘new technology’, in particular, those aspects which affect our communications. However, now I feel tied in a Gordian knot. ring_tangle

We can now produce text and communicate with each other much faster than we can read. Typing provided that ‘benefit’, and our ability to share our written words electronically, even instantaneously, may mean that our ideas seem to come out faster. Some people can produce text faster than they can speak. But, our ability to process text may be lagging. I try to always bear that in mind. I remember one of my earliest bosses telling me to keep my memos to management to less than a page: “They cannot handle more than than,” I was advised.

For some writers, the way around that has been to write fewer words: at one extreme, that leads to ‘text lingo‘, or shorthand that is almost as easy to assimilate as a picture. It takes no time to read ‘*$’ and understand ‘Starbucks’; it’s contextually easy for many of us, and may even work in many languages without need for translation. Yes, there will be those who are unaware of the coffee chain who will have problems and want to read ‘star dollar’ and be all at sea. We add to that the graphic that says much more–the emoticon. In real short order we can truly do more with less. But, you cannot do all with less. This has not yet become an accepted part of ‘business culture’, perhaps seeming to be far too informal. Maybe, I should try a blog post in ‘lingo speak’ sometime :-0. Though, I wonder if it would take much longer to write as I sought to compose the shorthand letter combinations.

The intention of such shorthand is laudable and as speed seems to be one of the things driving it, perhaps its acceptance will be accelerated. However, some oppose shorthand tools, for many reasons, including ‘defending the language’, so they will steer away from them: no ‘LOL’ or even ‘AKA’ or ‘ASAP’ for them (and I chose examples that are well-known rather than what may seem esoteric, such as ‘BOTEC’ [Back Of The Envelope Calculation]. But, in a world that has put itself into a position to be captured by brevity, where Twitter can rule with its 140 characters, this trend toward shorthand may have more wind behind it than opponents may care to withstand.

Although, I use text shorthand little in regular communication, for no reason other than that I have not learned this new language, I’m not ashamed to say that I agreed with Shakespeare when he wrote Polonius’ comment that “brevity is the soul of wit“. I’ve found over time that words, even if uttered clearly, have a density that is hard to anticipate: more of them and they tend to become like thickets. Because confusion can be difficult to overcome once it gets into the process, I thought it would reduce the density by using fewer words and trying to keep those as ‘sharp’ as possible. So, if the answer to a question is really ‘yes’, I’ll happily say so. I may add more, if I think it really develops my answer in a way that is not obvious. But, guess what? Such responses may lead to more trouble for their lack of fulsomeness. I like my text communication in media such as emails to be snappy. But, now I learn that terseness may be interpreted as rudeness: that may explain why some of my email exchanges or comments on Facebook appear to go off the rails, when someone has ‘gone off the deep end’ for a reason that escaped me.

Little did I realize that Einstein had it right in areas far beyond physics, and the meaning of E = mc^2 \,\!, and the concept that the mass of a body is a measure of its energy content also applies to new media.

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Lenten Reflections: Forty Things I Really Like And… (Days 38-40)–Learning to make do

As befits a Lenten challenge, it was not going to be easy. Coming to the end of the forty days, I found myself in a situation totally unenvisaged: I was travelling and unable to easily write or post my thoughts. A simple enough problem, really, but one that had the potential to derail a process. So, with a few hours available while in transit on the return leg of my travels, let me try to close this ‘chapter’, briefly, with another story.

An Easter egg hunt was arranged for the children, and adults were not supposed to help. Of course, many parents ‘could not help themselves’ and anxiously and eagerly burrowed around for eggs. The location was a lovely mountainside restaurant above Kingston. The day was blissfully sunny but not too hot. A morning sitting and cheering at a swimming meet was now on pause, after a testing drive up the mountain. We’d eaten brunch and now wanted to kick back for a few hours. We had the swimming night session to look forward to.

The area in which the children had to search was limited to a lawn, but the task was too much for some, and tears flowed as children, disappointed by their limited success, felt that the ‘big prize’, the golden egg would not be theirs. Eventually, one child found the ‘treasure’ and her pleasure was clear. Others, who’d found some eggs, but not the special one, now dealt with the result. Some happily chomped on the candy inside their prizes; others needed more to be content. Parents hugged and stroked and tried to make things better. For some it worked, for others it did not. Great idea comes to a point where it seems less than great?

Another hunt had been arranged for adults; children were encouraged to help their parents, perhaps suggesting the need that they would need reminding of how to ‘play’. The area to search was much larger and involved climbing stairs and winding paths. My little daughter and I hunted for clues, then solved them as best we could and went to the next point. That was not easy, and we bumped into other groups hunting like us. When we found clues, we read them and put them back. We were not being overly competitive and denying others the chance to find their way to the ultimate prize. My daughter and I ran and sweated, coming through bushes and in pots of plants and flowers. We looked under rocks and under a swimming pool. We peered into trees. We searched in and around a statue, as we sought the answer to the final clue. “Found it!” But it was not one of our voices. The lady looking behind us helped up her golden egg. Should I try to wrest it from her? No. Should I cry? No. Did I feel disappointed? A little, but because of what? The ‘prize’ was not the golden egg–not of real gold, but just colored–but a dinner for two at a lovely location. A wonderful treat. We joked with the family who had found the egg and teased about sharing the egg. They looked forward to giving the gift to some visitors coming to see them soon. We wished them well, and walked off to meet the rest of our family group. They were resting and taking in the mountain air.

We rolled into the car, and the car rolled us back down the mountain into the city. About 40 minutes later, we were on flat ground, back in the area near the Aquatic Centre. It was eerily quiet, but it was Easter Sunday: hardly any cars were on the road. We refreshed ourselves at a hotel, where we’d stayed previously. Our thoughts were on how well one of the family would do in the night’s finals. My daughter and I chuckled as we went back over some of the silly things that had fooled us as we hunted for eggs. Then we saw a bowl of chocolate eggs, on offer, for whomever wanted to take one. We each took one, and bit heartily into our treat. All of a sudden we had found a happy Easter in an egg for which we’d not had to hunt.

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